We all are likely familiar with the idea of a nickel defense, one in which an extra defensive back is brought on the field on passing downs, especially when there are three our four wide receivers in the opposing offensive set. Instead of the typical four DBs, there are five.
Looking over the defensive formations that the Arizona Cardinals ran, I was very surprised to see that they do not play a traditional nickel defense at all.
In 1174 defensive snaps, the Cardinals ran only five (FIVE) the entire season with five DBs. Instead, they ran almost exclusively "dime" formations for passing situations, or six defensive backs. It was 36.2 percent of all defensive snaps that the Cardinals played with six DBs. In each instance, they would bring in one extra cornerback and one extra safety.
The most common formation was a 3-2-6 formation, which they ran 55 percent (234 plays) of the time there were six DBs. Another 113 plays (27 percent of the time with six DBs) were 2-3-6. 72 plays were with four linemen and one linebacker (4-1-6). The least commonly used set was a 1-4-6 set, which was used only six times all season.
I don't know if this is something to look forward to in 2011 under Ray Horton, but I for one found it very interesting that the Cardinals virtually never run a nickel package.